By Elsie Boskamp & Rena Thomas
More then 200 members ofthe Spirit of Stony Brook Marching Band performed the national anthem on the field at LaValle Stadium, hitting their drums and spinning their flags as cheerleaders with red and white pom-poms were tossed in the air on the sidelines.
Fireworks shot from the stands as the football team left the locker room and Wolfie, the school mascot, skipped past sold-out seats packed with people dressed in red. It was the Seawolves’ Homecoming game, and the turnout was better than ever, with tickets selling out ahead of game day for the first time.
School spirit has been improving at Stony Brook University, with nearly 10,000 additional people attending the Homecoming game since 2007, according to Chris Murray, assistant athletics director for marketing. A study published in 2011 in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport shows that football is driving this improvement by creating a sense of community at colleges across the nation.
“It’s all about bringing the alumni back, even if you graduate you never really leave,” Murray said. “Homecoming gets all the alums to come back and athletics is a great way to do that – it’s not the only way, by any means, but, it certainly carries the flag.”
As part of the Together We Transform plan, Murray works closely with other key members of the Athletics Department to re-brand Stony Brook sports and make the Seawolves the driving force of Long Island football.
The unveiling of the new tailgating location, “Seawolves Town,” featuring the student-only “Lot,” has been the first step in making this plan a reality.
“I have most definitely seen a shift in the level of school spirit at Stony Brook,” Andrea Lebedinski, athletics coordinator of annual giving and branding, said. “During the years that I was an undergraduate [2004 – 2008] I can honestly say that the atmosphere on campus, and at games, was much different than what we see today.”
Today, the university is known in the community for its sold-out homecoming games and popular Wolfstock celebrations.
“School’s put a lot of effort into homecoming and that translates into money,” Craig A. Depken, an expert in sports economics and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said.
The financial appeal of college sports is a big one, according to Depken, but economic growth is a long-term effect that can only be accomplished when sports engage with student interests and teams are supported by the campus community.
“A commuter school has a much harder time pulling it off,” Daniel A. Rascher, president of SportsEconomics, an organization focused on the business and science of sports, said.
An estimated 40 percent of all Stony Brook Students live on campus, while a total of approximately 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students commute to the school, according to reports published by the university in Fall 2015.
“Students don’t live together so they don’t attend games together,” sports economist David Berri said. “And, without an active student section, the atmosphere at the games is not the same.”
Despite Stony Brook having a large commuter student population, Murray has been working to make sure the game-day atmosphere is anything but dull.
“Its been an awesome journey so far, but we’re just getting warmed up,” Murray said.